President Barack Obama came out for eliminating the filibuster in an interview with Voxpublished Monday.
He said the “routine” use of the 60-vote requirement by Senate minorities makes it arcane in an era of partisan polarization, and that it “almost ensures greater gridlock and less clarity in terms of the positions of the parties.”
Obama, whose presidency has coincided with the dramatic escalation of filibusters, noted that there’s “nothing in the Constitution that” protects the blocking tactic.
Though he has typically been mum about Senate rules, Obama benefited greatly from Senate Democrats’ move in 2013 to eliminate the filibuster for most executive branch and judicial nominations. It remains in place for Supreme Court nominations and legislation.
Here’s the relevant quote by Obama, via Vox, in response to a question about how to govern amidst polarization.
Probably the one thing that we could change without a constitutional amendment that would make a difference here would be the elimination of the routine use of the filibuster in the Senate. Because I think that does, in an era in which the parties are more polarized, it almost ensures greater gridlock and less clarity in terms of the positions of the parties. There’s nothing in the Constitution that requires it. The framers were pretty good about designing a House, a Senate, two years versus six-year terms, every state getting two senators. There were a whole bunch of things in there to assure that a majority didn’t just run rampant. The filibuster in this modern age probably just torques it too far in the direction of a majority party not being able to govern effectively and move forward its platform. And I think that’s an area where we can make some improvement.
Hillary Clinton has been crowned by many as the presumptive Democratic nominee for 2016, but there are other Democratic hopefuls out there. On Thursday one of them became the first potential candidate to form an exploratory committee, the first step in the long run for the presidency.
That man is former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. You may remember him as the guy who served one term in Senate between 2007 and 2013, and chose not to seek re-election. Webb served in the Reagan administration as Secretary of the Navy but ran as a Democrat for senate in 2006. In his announcement video, Webb highlighted his bipartisan roots, his military history, and made a generally centrist argument as to why he is considering a run for the presidency. Here are a few more things you should know about Jim Webb, the guy who has officially kicked off the 2016 Presidential elections.
1. Webb is not a dove.
Webb opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. His stance on the issue has led to many people calling him a dove-ish democrat, but that characterization is not all that clear. Webb did not oppose the war in Iraq on humanitarian grounds, but rather because he believed it was a strategic error, arguing that the conflict would sap vital resources from military engagements in other parts of the world and strengthen Iran. “I am not against fighting when fighting is necessary,” he told Inside the Navy at the time. “What I am for is making sure you are fighting the right war.” A Vietnam veteran, Webb famously said in 2007 he still believed that the Vietnam War was a good idea, and partially blamed the “anti-war left” for the way things turned out. In his announcement video, he speaks vaguely of “ill-considered foreign ventures that have drained trillions from our economy and in some cases brought instability instead of deterrence,” but doesn’t name names. Webb was opposed to military intervention in Libya.
2. Webb only recently evolved to support marriage-equality.
Webb was against same-sex marriage during his time in the Senate, although he wasopposed to a Virginia constitutional amendment that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. Last month he told The Richmond Times that he was “comfortable with the evolution” the issue has seen over the past few years. “I think it has been a good thing for this country,” he said. Webb also voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell after having campaigned against it.
3. Webb didn’t want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gasses.
Webb has been less than progressive on the issue of climate change. In 2011, he voted for a bill that would’ve halted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses. He is a proponent of the Keystone pipeline and even called on Obama to open Virginia’s coast to oil and natural gas exploration.
4.Webb is big on prison reform.
If Webb for President is a long shot, at least his candidacy can serve to bring the important yet rarely discussed issue of prison reform into the spotlight. Webb is outspoken on the issue and introduced legislation in the senate that would’ve created a commission to recommend widespread reforms to the criminal justice system. The bill hoped to remedy racial disparities within the system, address the fact that there are four times as many mentally ill people in prisons than in mental hospitals, and probe into the causes of the U.S.’s extremely high incarceration rate. The bill had unanimous Democratic support but was filibustered by Republicans and did not pass.
And there you have it. The 2016 elections have officially begun.
In the old days, life had many hardships. Among these: the need to wait until Election Day to determine who had won.
But now Big Data has saved us from this struggle. Even close races can now be predicted with mathematical precision.
We know, for example, with 98 percent certainty that Sen. Kay Hagan, an embattled Democrat, will win reelection in North Carolina next month. We are even more certain — 99 percent — that Sen. Mitch McConnell, a vulnerable Republican, will keep his seat in Kentucky. And we are darn near sure — 91 percent, to be specific — that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) will lose.
Throw all of these into our election model, add eye of newt and toe of frog, stir counterclockwise and — voila! — we can project with 84 percent confidence that Republicans will control the Senate next year.
The above data are from The Post’s Election Lab, run by George Washington University professor John Sides, but his is just one of several election models that claim to predict results with finely tuned accuracy. As of Tuesday afternoon, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which turned the academic discipline of computer models into a media game, gives Republicans a 57.6 percent chance of taking the Senate. (Decimal points are particularly compelling.) The New York Times’s model goes with 61 percent, DailyKos 66 percent, Huffington Post 54 percent and PredictWise 73 percent. The Princeton Election Consortium gives a 54 percent advantage to Democrats . Apparently they forgot to add the toe of frog.
Some models have good records, and the theory behind them is sound. “Models help guard against any natural partisan bias,” Sides told me. “You use data to make decisions instead of your instincts or folklore. Instincts are sometimes correct, but on average data will be better.”
Yet there can be too much of a good thing — as when media outlets put too much faith in the numbers the models churn out. “Nate Silver’s team at FiveThirtyEight gives the GOP a 59 percent chance of retaking the Senate, down one point from last week,” ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos told his roundtable Sunday on “This Week.” “Was Nate Silver right to move it just an inch away from the Republicans?”
Modelers like to think Big Data can revolutionize election coverage the way “Moneyball” changed baseball recruitment. And some editors see it as an alternative to poll-driven coverage of politics. But models rely heavily (in some cases, exclusively) on polls and are subject to the garbage-in, garbage-out rule. Models also rely on historical patterns, and in politics, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Recently, modelers have taken to discrediting each other publicly. Silver on Sept. 26 tweeted a shot at the “overconfident model” of Princeton’s Sam Wang: “Yesterday, Sam Wang’s snapshot had [Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark] Begich as a 99% favorite in Alaska. Today it gives him a 23% chance.” Silver later let people know Wang gave Sharron Angle a 99.997 percent chance to win the Nevada Senate seat that she lost to Harry Reid in 2010.
Wang, in turn, said Silver blew both the Nevada and Colorado Senate races that year.
Silver’s model has put Republican chances of winning the Senate between 53 percent and 65 percent over the past several weeks. The Times’s model has bounced around over a longer period from about 40 percent to the high 60s. The Post’s Election Lab has gone from 86 percent odds for Republicans in mid-July to a 51 percent edge for Democrats in mid-September before bouncing back up to the current 84 percent GOP advantage.
Smooth out the fluctuations, average the models together, and you end up with a reasonable forecast: Republicans are slightly favored to get the six seats they need to take the Senate.
Now compare that to Stu Rothenberg, an old-school political forecaster supposed to have been made anachronistic by Big Data. In August 2013, he predicted Republicans would gain three to six Senate seats, gradually moving that up to his current prediction of a five-to-eight-seat Republican gain, which he has held since August. He was earlier and more consistent than the models.
Rothenberg told me the models “hype” and are “intellectually deceptive” because they “convey a sense of mathematical certainty that is simply misleading.” Rothenberg uses polling and other data, but he also interviews candidates and is “humble enough to know that every election cycle is different.”
Charlie Cook, another old-school forecaster, thinks the Big Data models have a place, but they put too much science in politics. “They err,” he told me, in assuming “a precision and confidence that doesn’t exist in human behavior.”
Three top Republican Senate candidates heaped praise on the political network built by the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch during a secretive conference held by the brothers this past summer, according to audio of the event.
Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst and Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton directly credited donors present at the June 16 retreat in Dana Point, California, for propelling them forward. Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner told attendees that his race would likely be decided by the presence of “third party” money — an obvious pitch for generosity from the well-heeled crowd.
The presence of Gardner and Cotton was previously reported by The Nationmagazine, though it is unclear if Cotton ever confirmed his appearance. Ernst’s attendance had not previously been reported.
For all three, the association with the Koch brothers’ network is likely to provide kindling for their opponents, who have already argued that the Republicans are steered by deep-pocketed conservatives.
Audio of the event, held at the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort, was obtained by The Undercurrent and shared exclusively with The Huffington Post. In it, the three Republican candidates, appearing on a panel titled “The Senate: A Window of Policy Opportunity for Principled Leaders,” speak for several minutes each about the state of their respective races. Because the discussion took place in mid-June, some of the comments are dated. In addition, some of the audio was redacted to preserve the anonymity of the individual who provided it — “a source who was present at the event,” per an official with The Undercurrent — and to remove sections with too much cross-talk. A separate source, who helped organize the retreat, confirmed each candidate’s participation.
During their speeches, both Cotton and Ernst noted that this was actually the second Koch brothers’ retreat they had attended. Last year, the two had gone to the New Mexico event as politicians of less stature. The Koch network has since helped usher them to the doorsteps of the United States Senate.
“I was not known at that time,” Ernst said. “A little-known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa, known through my National Guard service and some circles in Iowa. But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”
“We are going to paint some very clear differences in this general election,” she said earlier in her talk. “And this is the thing that we are going to take back — that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network.”
Cotton went further, crediting Koch-funded groups for helping change the political landscape of Arkansas.
“Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state [inaudible] building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state involved in their communities,” he said.
Such discussion is franker than that offered during the daily grind of the campaign trail — for obvious reason. The talk was private. At one point, Cotton flatly claims that former Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his seat because he “endorsed immigration principles.” At a separate panel on congressional races, the audio of which was also sent to The Huffington Post, officials with two Koch-funded organizations — Americans for Prosperity’s president, Tim Phillips, and Freedom Partners’ president, Marc Short — also spoke more candidly about Senate races than they would have on a public panel.
“Michigan is a state that’s basically an uphill climb honestly,” said Short, mentioning the battle to replace Sen. Carl Levin (D).
“Minnesota, everyone’s favorite comedian, Al Franken. He, against all expectations, actually has kept his head down and not made stupid comments, and has been in decent shape in a relatively blue state,” said Phillips, referring to another Democratic senator, who is up for re-election this year.
Writing about Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) stunning primary defeat last week, I warned Democrats that the House majority leader’s loss was as much a wake-up call for them as it was for the GOP. Well, now I want to warn them about a very real possibility: President Obama will be impeached if the Democrats lose control of the U.S. Senate.
Yeah, yeah, I read Aaron Blake’s astute piece in The Post on the impeachment process. He says “probably not” to the question of whether the House could impeach Obama. But “probably” is not “definitely.” And with the way the impeachment talk has gone, “probably not” could become “absolutely” if the Senate flips to the Republicans.
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) became the latest to openly discuss impeaching the president. In response to a question from a radio host on Monday, the two-term congressman who was swept in during the tea party wave of 2010, said, Obama is “just absolutely ignoring the Constitution and ignoring the laws and ignoring the checks and balances.” Articles of impeachment, he added, “probably could” pass in the House.
In a later interview, Barletta said one of the reasons he wouldn’t vote for impeachment was because a Democrat-controlled Senate would never convict the Democrat president. Blake also mentions this parenthetically in his piece. Others who have talked about impeachment point to this as the reason not to pursue the extraordinary political rebuke.
Last August at a town hall meeting, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) cited the Senate as a reason for not pursuing impeachment. “If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it,” he said in response to a constituent upset about “the fraudulent birth certificate of Barack Obama” and who wanted him punished. “But it would go to the Senate and he wouldn’t be convicted.” A week later, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was asked, “Why don’t we impeach him [Obama]?” His answer was similar to Farenthold’s. “It’s a good question,” the freshman senator said, “and I’ll tell you the simplest answer: To successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. Senate.”
Actually, impeachment is a two-step process that starts in the House. All it takes is a simple majority of that chamber to approve a single article of impeachment against the president for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Once that happens, a president is forever branded as having been impeached. President Andrew Johnson (1868) and President Bill Clinton (1998) share that distinction. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the full House could vote to impeach him.
To officially remove a president from office, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict him on those articles of impeachment. Johnson and Clinton were not convicted. Obama could share the same or worse fate. A Republican-controlled Senate could lead to Obama becoming the third president impeached and the first ever to be removed from office.
I don’t make this prediction lightly. The tea party-infused GOP has done things many once believed impossible. I’m thinking specifically about the two instances it brought the nation and the world to the brink of economic ruin because of its resistance to raising the debt ceiling. If Republicans are willing to ignore their leadership and jeopardize the full faith and credit of the United States, there really is nothing they aren’t willing to do. And a Republican takeover of the Senate would only embolden them.
I’ve said this before and I’ll keep repeating it until the message sinks in for Democrats inclined to sit out the midterms: Obama is not on the ballot in November, but Obama is on the ballot in November. Democrats have it in their power to keep the Senate and save the Obama presidency from the all-but-certain asterisk of impeachment. Whether they use it is a very real concern.
Militants attack Somali hotel, de Blasio is sworn in as mayor, and more
1. Attack on Somali hotel leaves at least six dead
Two car bombs and an attack by armed militants left six people dead and several more wounded at the Jazeera hotel in Mogadishu. Police say they were able to stop the assailants from entering the hotel, which is often used by foreign visitors and government officials. [New York Times]
2. New NYC Mayor de Blasio vows to tackle income inequality
New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, took office vowing to continue the fight against income inequality. “That mission – our march towards a fairer, more just, more progressive place, our march to keep the promise of New York alive for the next generation – it begins today,” he said after being sworn into office Wednesday by former President Bill Clinton. [Christian Science Monitor]
3. Harry Reid promises vote on long-term unemployment benefits
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate will vote on a bill that aims to extend long-term unemployment benefits when the holiday recess ends on Jan. 6. Reid expressed optimism that the bill will pass the Senate with bipartisan support, but declined to speculate whether he thought the legislation would make it through the House. [FOX]
4. Massive fire breaks out in Minneapolis
A huge fire broke out in south Minneapolis, destroying a 10-unit apartment building and injuring at least 14 people. Thick gray smoke could be seen rising from the building, which also housed a small grocery store. It took 50 firefighters to quell the blaze in the freezing weather. [New York Times]
5. U.N. releases 2013 Iraq death toll number
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released its estimate for the total number of civilian casualties in Iraq in 2013. According to the U.N., 7,818 people were killed and 17,981 were injured. It was the most dangerous year since 2008, when 6,787 died and 20,178 were injured. [CNN]
6. Hawaii Senate primary causing tension among Democrats
A bitter feud is diving Democrats in Hawaii between those who support Sen. Brian Schatz, the politician appointed to fill the late Daniel Inouye’s seat, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Inouye’s protegee. Inouye’s deathbed wish was that Hanabusa be chosen to succeed him, but the governor appointed Schatz instead. The primary is scheduled for August 9. [Washington Post]
7. Historic document tied to American Independence discovered
It had been misfiled in a museum’s attic for more than four decades, but an archivist at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan found a letter from the Continental Congress after going through some old documents that were to be discarded. The letter was a draft of a plea for reconciliation sent to Britain in 1775. Analysts say the draft was written by Robert R. Livingston, a New Yorker who helped draft the Declaration of Independence a year later. The document is expected to be auctioned off later this month. [New York Times]
8. Kim Jong Un defends uncle’s execution
In a New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un defended the decision to have his uncle executed in December. The uncle, Jang Song Thaek, helped Kim rise to power, but Kim said the purge has brought greater unity to the country. Kim accused his uncle of trying to overthrow the government. [CNN]
9. Actor James Avery dies
Actor James Avery died from complications of open heart surgery. Best known for playing Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Avery was 68. He also appeared in Dr. Dolittle 2 and License to Drive. [ABC]
10. Gay couple weds during the Rose Parade
Aubrey Loots and Danny Leclair became the first same-sex couple to get married at the Rose Parade. The pair was standing atop a giant wedding cake float when they exchanged “I dos.” It was the first gay wedding at the Rose Parade. [CBS]
Below are the full reactions of senators, lightly edited for clarity:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
“That’s a good question. We were not attacked, uh, to the extent that we were on 9/11.
“We showed a level of dysfunction that has seldom been reached. Maybe the only other time was before the union dissolved. The good things are that it could have been worse. The final story on 2013 for me is it could have been worse.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
“What good happened? A lot of the things Obama wanted to get done didn’t get done, like he wanted to avoid sequestration, which would have put one and two-tenths trillion [dollars] back into spending.
“That’s very positive. We got 17.2 trillion in debt, and you don’t want to add another one trillion and two-tenths to it.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)
“Well, the government isn’t completely closed, is it? What good happened this year? I only have three years left, that’s what happened that’s good.”
(Why was it so bad?) “That’s all about leadership. If you have good leadership, you have good progress. If you don’t, you don’t. And that’s not a partisan statement — that’s both sides.”
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
“Oh, man. That’s the toughest question I’ve had all year.
“It is surprisingly hard. This is the most frustrating year of any of my years in the Congress — House or Senate — because so few major issues went addressed, starting with the fiscal situation, and then bumping along through all the crises and so forth. What good happened this year? The best thing that happened this year is that we finally got word late last night [Dec. 19] that we’re going to be done. I think we all believe that it can’t get worse than this year, so maybe next year will be better.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
“That’s a really, uh … you know, look, from my perspective, not a great deal. I mean our foreign policy, our credibility around the world is continuing to shatter. Look at Syria. I can’t think of a lot of good, I really cannot. I have to tell you, this year in many ways for me has been one of the most productive. But as I leave here and look at just overall what’s actually happened, it’s not been a good year for the United States, so it’s hard for me to think of much. I’m sorry. I’m usually very upbeat and optimistic. I’m sorry.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), walking with Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)
Rubio: “What good happened this year? Well, I’ll get back to you.”
Casey: “We got a budget bill!”
Rubio, yelling as elevator doors close: “We’re still America — that’s what’s good!”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
“We finally got a semblance of a budget. We had the student loans — try to get some stability to that, lower interest rates. And we were able to drive both sides further apart. I don’t know if that’s good, but that’s what happened. That’s facts.
“With [Republican Sen.] Susan Collins, we were able to put a bipartisan group together. We got the governors caucus started, which is really bipartisan, so we’ve got to see if we can carry that and hopefully get a little better direction to get things accomplished. It’s gonna happen if you have relationships, so you have to work on that.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
“We elevated the stories of survivors of sexual assault to make it a national debate and make sure victims’ voices are heard. It was one of my highest priorities.
“I have lots of personal successes, but those are all for [sons] Theo and Henry. I think that’s it.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), walking with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)
Whitehouse: “We cleared the filibuster away from nominees …”
Wicker: “We were not attacked by foreign governments.”
Whitehouse: “The economy continued to improve.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
“There are a lot of good things. You know, we’re all blessed. This country’s blessed. We’re still standing. There’s a lot of things where people said the sky is falling, but it hasn’t fell.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
“What good happened this year? [Chuckle, pause, asks if that means with his family or the Senate.] A good report from the president’s review committee on the NSA.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)
“Give Lizzie, my press secretary, a call, and we can set something up.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)
“My son did great in soccer and cross country. When you said good, I immediately thought of home, not Washington, D.C.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
“You know I think, uh, I’m having trouble trying to come up with something good. I think it’s good that we have exposed the surveillance of Americans without a warrant, and we’re going to try to do something about it. It seems like there’s some consensus in that direction.”
[It’s pointed out that his example is actually rather negative.] “I tried to turn it into a positive. You know, really, we abandoned the sequester caps, and really, I go home disappointed with the year.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
“I think that the budget thing was good. I think that will avert another shutdown. I can’t think of a hell of a lot of things besides that, to be honest with you. The observers say it’s the least productive Congress in history, and I don’t disagree with that. We did some good stuff on that defense bill. Did some good stuff on that. I’m digging for the pony here.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
Murphy: “The Red Sox won the World Series.”
Booker: “That’s painful. That’s bad!”
Murphy: “Cory Booker got elected to the United States Senate.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
“What good? [Chuckle] Well, you really threw me for a loop. Oh, God. We did pass some bills — the WRDA [Water Resources Development Act] bill. There’s a whole series of bills that people worked on — the compounding [pharmacies] bill — they worked pretty hard on. These are bills that did not make the front page or even the first five pages, but they’ve made a big impact to the folks that really care about them. In fact, I even have a list of eight or nine of them, but they really haven’t attracted any attention. On those bills — they were bipartisan — we worked hard, mostly on the HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee.
“You know, everybody talks, ‘Where’s the farm bill? Why didn’t we get all of the high-profile stuff?’ — and then turning the Senate into the House, which is a bad thing, and our response. Everybody focuses on that. But I think there’s a reservoir of commitment here, on tax reform, on the tax extender package, and other things that really count. Foreign policy is a big one. I just think you have to understand that there are two very different opinions and philosophies here on the part of Republicans and Democrats, but we can occasionally build a bridge. And we’ll keep doing it in spite of 2014, which happens to be an even-numbered year, and you know what happens then.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
“What good happened this year? Well, I think a lot of Senate relationships were strained by what happened late in the year, but I think they’re going to survive. In the Senate, those relationships and friendships matter because you only have 99 colleagues. And, uh, uh, most of the good things that happened for me were with my family and friends, and while people had their challenges generally, this was a good year for my family and for most of the people I know.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)
“I had a lot of good experiences with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in getting amendments, working together on amendments and bills, and getting them passed by the Senate. I think the Senate took on a lot of tough issues. If you look at what the Senate passed, it was a number of big issues, from budget to immigration, and gun control was up, and I think the list goes on and on.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)
“I think we’re getting close on the farm bill. Obviously passing a budget. I think ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] was a good outcome, immigration reform. I think as we focus on all the negative, there were some pretty amazing things. I don’t think anyone felt we were going to do comprehensive immigration reform. ENDA had been hanging around for a long time. And I think the budget, as I understand, is the first time since 1986 that a divided Congress has produced a budget. I tend to look at the good side of things. There was plenty bad, though.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
“We passed a budget for the first time in four years. … That’s not a bad thing. We got a defense authorization. A lot of appointments done. The economy, I think the economy, we saw the report yesterday — 4.1 percent GDP — better than people expected. Economy’s better, retail sales are up, consumer confidence is up, and deficit is down. That’s good news.”
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine)
“Number one, getting the first budget in four years. And I don’t know if you were aware, but I just learned this is the first budget out of a divided Congress, with the House [under a] different [party], since 1986. I think that’s significant. It wasn’t the most picturesque process in the world, but it was done though bipartisan negotiation. That’s a big deal. That’s a very big deal. Getting the defense bill done, I feel positive. We had some good bipartisan work on immigration. We had some good bipartisan work on student loans. So there were some bright spots. Not a very productive year — I’m not going to argue that.
“I think this whole business with the rules, we need to have some continued discussions. It’s trying to find the right balance between respecting minority rights and not facilitating obstruction.”
[He’s asked whether he’s still glad he ran for the Senate last year.] “Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. You’re dealing with public policy at the highest level, and for a person like myself who’s curious, likes public policy and likes to try to fix things, it’s a great place to be. I’ve had some very frustrating moments. The shutdown, the vote on [gun] background checks was a downer, but by and large, I feel pretty good.”
Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)
“I think a number of things. We’re right on the verge of getting the farm bill done, we’re piecing that together. We got the WRDA [Water Resources Development Act] bill done. So really a lot of things have gotten done when you take away the budget issues. That’s really where we, you know, where we have a problem agreeing — in the amount of money we’re going to spend in the future and increase taxes, increase revenue to get those dollars. That’s really where the concern is at.
“I’d like to have seen a lot more things voted on. I don’t have any problems at all casting votes. I think the amendment process needs to be fixed, [so] members can offer amendments. That’s how you avoid what happened with the military pay issue that we’ve got, how things like that are allowed to go forward. That doesn’t happen if everybody’s consulted.”
One of the most partisan Republicans in the Senate, Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, said Sunday that his “attitude” toward Senate Democrats has changed as a result of the outpouring of sympathy he received from colleagues after the death of his son. Perry Inhofe, 52, was killed in a plane crash in November.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I seem to have gotten more — well at least as many, maybe more — communications from some of my Democrat friends,” Inhofe told host David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I’m a pretty partisan Republican.”
In the wake of his personal tragedy, Inhofe said, “all of a sudden the old barriers that were there — the old differences, those things that keep us apart — just disappear. It’s not just a recognition that I know how much more important this is, but they do, too. And they look out. And they realize that you’ve lost someone. And that brings us closer together.”
During three terms in the Senate, Inhofe has established a reputation as a take-no-prisoners political brawler, and as a legislator whose ideology is both fiscally and socially to the right of many in his party. An outspoken skeptic of the scientific evidence for man-made climate change, Inhofe has butted heads on the Senate floor over the issue with nearly every member of the Democratic leadership.
When news of his son’s death reached Washington, however, politics were quickly set aside. And even though Inhofe is a legendary thorn in the side of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the loss of Inhofe’s son served to underscore for him the things that he and Reid have in common.
“Harry and I … disagree on all this stuff, this political stuff. But we were both married the same year, in 1959. And we’ve both had some illnesses. So yeah, I would say that when something like this happens, you get closer together. The differences are still there. … But your attitude changes,” said Inhofe.
Like Inhofe, Reid is an unapologetic partisan. But in a speech Reid gave on the Senate floor shortly after Perry Inhofe’s death, the Majority Leader described the genuine friendship he’s formed with the Oklahoma Republican. “I really care a lot about Jim Inhofe, and he and I are unquestionably friends,” Reid told the assembled senators. “We may not agree on all political issues, but we agree that we’re friends. I’ve helped him when I could, and he’s helped me when he can.”
As friends, Reid said, he and Inhofe “put all the disagreements to one side and look at each other for what we are, outside of our politics.”
On Sunday, Inhofe suggested that his change of heart is likely to extend beyond personal dynamics to his work in the Senate. “I can’t help but think when I’m confronting someone on something in which we disagree, I’ll know how they responded to my loss. And how we got closer. And it’ll stay that way,” he said.
Many recent articles have trumpeted the “bipartisan breakthrough” that led to a federal budget deal. Don’t believe any of them. Partisan warfare is very much alive.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a key broker of the budget deal, signaled that a standoff over the debt ceiling is coming soon.
Said Ryan: “We, as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit. We don’t want ‘nothing’ out of the debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.”
The comments show how broken our legislative system has become. Just days ago, Ryan agreed to a budget deal that increases the federal debt — and hailed it in a series of interviews — but now he won’t agree to raise the debt ceiling mandated by the very same budget deal.
In the last fiscal standoff in October, the Obama administration held firm and refused to negotiate over the debt ceiling. Expect the same reaction this time.
Of course, the real reason there was a budget deal is that Republicans felt it was politically advantageous. With the White House on the defensive for nearly two months over the ObamaCare implementation, Republicans don’t want to do anything to distract from their woes.
Newt Gingrich said it best: “I think this is mediocre policy and brilliant politics. It doesn’t get them what they want on policy terms, but it strips away the danger that people will notice anything but ObamaCare. And the longer the country watches ObamaCare, the more likely the Democrats are to lose the Senate.”
He’s right. The budget deal probably is good politics — at least in the very short term.
So as both sides move the country to the edge of the fiscal brink early next year, remember it’s all about politics. But will the politics still be good for either side?
“To have the kind of year we ought to have in 2014, we have to have electable candidates on November ballots in every state—people that don’t scare the general electorate and can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home,” McConnell told the Washington Examiner. “We can’t just turn the other cheek and hope for the best. It didn’t work in 2010 and 2012 so we’re going to try something different in 2014.”
McConnell kept quiet for the first few years of the group’s existence once he saw its power in Kentucky (a McConnell-approved candidate lost to tea party darling Sen. Rand Paul in a race to be Kentucky’s junior senator), courting tea party forces and even bringing Paul’s 2010 campaign manager to run his 2014 bid.
His battle with the tea party coincides with his 2014 bid, where he’s facing challenges on both sides—from a formidable Democrat, former Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan-Grimes, and a tea party challenger, Matt Bevin. McConnell trumps Bevin in polls, but he and Grimes are neck and neck.
It’s perhaps why McConnell’s gloves came off when he discussed the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group that aims to boot the Senate’s seasoned Republicans, including McConnell, in favor of farther right conservatives like his challenger from the right, Bevin.
“The Senate Conservatives Fund is giving conservatism a bad name. They’re participating in ruining the [Republican] brand,” McConnell said. “What they do is mislead their donors into believing the reason that we can’t get as good an outcome as we’d like to get is not because of a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president, but because Republicans are insufficiently committed to the cause — which is utter nonsense.”